Credit reporting firm Equifax says data breach could potentially affect 143 million US consumers. The Equifax breach is vert possibly the most severe leak of personal info ever for a simple reason: the breath-taking amount of highly sensitive data it handed over to criminals.
Personal data including birth dates, credit card numbers and more were obtained in the breach. Equifax, which supplies credit information and other information services, said Thursday that a cybersecurity incident discovered on July 29 could have potentially affected 143 million consumers in the U.S. “The leaked data includes names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses and potentially drivers licenses,” reports CNBC. “209,000 U.S. credit card numbers were also obtained, in addition to ‘certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.”
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard F. Smith said in a statement: “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes. We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations. We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether they were impacted by this incident.” Equifax is now alerting customers whose information was included in the breach via mail, and is working with state and federal authorities.
Dan Goodin of ArsTechnica writes: “By providing full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, driver license numbers, it provided most of the information banks, insurance companies, and other businesses use to confirm consumers are who they claim to be. The theft, by criminals who exploited a security flaw on the Equifax website, opens the troubling prospect the data is now in the hands of hostile governments, criminal gangs, or both and will remain so indefinitely. Hacks hitting Yahoo and other sites, by contrast, may have breached more accounts, but the severity of the personal data was generally more limited. And in most cases the damage could be contained by changing a password or getting a new credit card number. What’s more, the 143 million US people Equifax said were potentially affected accounts for roughly 44 percent of the population. When children and people without credit histories are removed, the proportion becomes even bigger. That means well more than half of all US residents who rely the most on bank loans and credit cards are now at a significantly higher risk of fraud and will remain so for years to come. Besides being used to take out loans in other people’s names, the data could be abused by hostile governments to, say, tease out new information about people with security clearances, especially in light of the 2015 hack on the US Office of Personnel Management, which exposed highly sensitive data on 3.2 million federal employees, both current and retired.”
What to do if you’re a victim of the Equifax hack
1. Request your free credit reports:
Under federal law you are allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To request a copy of your credit report online, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
2. Put a fraud alert on your credit:
You can put a fraud alert on your credit reports for free by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two.
3. Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements:
Go through all your bank, retirement, and brokerage accounts, as well as your credit card statements to look for any suspicious activity.
4. Sign up for a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service:
Monitoring services usually alert you when a company checks your credit history, a new loan or credit card is opened in your name, a creditor says a payment is late, or if public records show you’ve filed for bankruptcy.
5. Put a freeze on your credit:
This is an extreme step if your personal information is compromised or stolen.